Monday, June 29, 2009

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
2008. Rated PG-13, 110 minutes.
Director: Guillermo Del Toro.
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Jeffrey Tambor.

Plot: Prince Nuada (Goss) is upset with the way the world has turned out in his absence. He seeks to unite all the pieces of a magical crown which will spring the dormant, yet "indestructible" Golden Army into action under his control so he can start running things. Hellboy (Perlman) and crew have something to say about this.

The Good: Director Del Toro builds upon his Pan's Labyrinth foundation by giving us more stunning visuals. It's creatures and other special fx are beautifully rendered. The action scenes that show off this aspect of the film are very nicely done. In fact, its a much better looking movie than it's predecessor. The love story between Hellboy and Liz (Blair) goes in an interesting direction. It also leaves the two characters with an obvious starting point for the third movie in the series, should they make one.

The Bad: In only the franchise's second movie, it already suffers from "more is less" syndrome. We get more great characters, both good and evil, better special fx and lots of action. However, its crammed into a package 20 minutes shorter than the original. That means its fun while its on but not nearly as gratifying as the original. It doesn't help that it simply reworks The Lord of the Rings to fit a superhero flick for its main premise and resorts to corny sight gags for the humor. Worse than that, our hero is going through an identity crisis. However, its not in that good, tortured mentality of Batman sort of way. Its in that bad, the writers don't seem like they know what to do with him way. One of my problems with the first movie was how Hellboy seemed so much like Wolverine. I would've preferred that to what he is here, an even more simpleminded goofball. He's also well on his way to becoming an alcoholic. That could be really interesting but they just played it for laugh. Hmmm...anything to get more kids in the theater, right?

The Ugly: The tooth fairies. Yeesh, nasty little critters.

Recommendation: Obviously, fans of the comic and/or the first film should check it out. Most people seem to like this one a bit more. I like it a bit less. No doubt, it is a fun popcorn flick that looks absolutely great. Of the five big superhero flicks of 2008, I'd rank this fourth, far behind The Dark Knight and Iron Man but sandwiched between The Incredible Hulk and Hancock.

The Opposite View: Michael Dance, The Cinema Source

What the Internet Says: 7.4/10 on (6/29/09), 88% on, 78/100 on

MY SCORE: 6/10


2004. Rated PG-13, 132 minutes.
Director: Guillermo Del Toro.
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, John Hurt, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor.

Plot: After coming through a portal opened by the bad guys, Hellboy (Perlman) is adopted by the good guys and becomes the main guy on a team of paranormal heroes that fight paranormal villains. Sixty years have past and the original baddies are not only back, they're after Hellboy to help them destroy Earth.

The Good: One drawback to being the first movie in a comic book franchise is you have to back to the source's humble beginnings and provide virgins to the character an origin story. This movie dispenses with that bit of business in a thankfully quick and exciting manner. Once done with that, it spends the majority of it's time on action scenes of some sort. Occasionally, it pauses for "Red," as he's called by his friends, to deal with his love life and the increasingly strenuous relationship with his "father" (Hurt). Luckily, its effective at weaving those things in rather than dawdling on them for the most part.

The Bad: There are a few plotholes, which is to be expected, so they're there but not deal breakers. What nearly is a deal breaker is the idiocy of our main villain's (Rasputin played by Karel Roden) plan. It follows the well-worn and even more stupid movie logic of really bad guy wants to unleash a far more powerful and even worse being upon the world. It stands to reason there's not really anything to do after you destroy the world, now is there? Anyhoo, there is one other aspect that bugged me. It seems as if Wolverine of the X-Men simply had his personality and some other traits transplanted to a red body with a stone hand instead of claws, giving us Hellboy. It got to the point where everytime he spoke I couldn't help but think "that's exactly what Wolverine would say."

The Ugly: The very cool Karl Kroenen (Ladislav Beran) without a mask.

Recommendation: Comic book fans and fans of comic book movies should have at it. Its heavy on the action and has enough light humor to keep it moving at brisk pace. It is certainly not the best the genre has to offer but since its thoroughly "okay," its far from the worse.

The Opposite View: Maitland McDonagh, TV Guide

What the Internet Says: 6.8/10 on (6/29/09), 80% on, 72/100 on

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Women

The Women
2008. Rated PG-13, 114 minutes.
Director: Diane English.
Starring Meg Ryan, Annette Bening, Eva Mendes, Debra Messing, Jada Pinkett Smith, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher, Cloris Leachman.

Plot: When Mary (Ryan) finds out her husband is cheating on her with perfume sales clerk Crystal (Mendes), her friends and her mom try to guide her through the tough times. Remake of the 1939 film of the same name.

The Good: We have a cast of rom-com all stars giving it their melodramatic best. Each of the ladies makes the most of what their roles have to offer. The pacing and humor are major plusses. It's not fall-off-your-chair funny but it does elicit some laughs. Combine that with a script that pluckily pushes us along from one girl talk scene to the next and you get a fairly quick moving affair (I know, bad pun given the movie's premise). Also a number of recognizable, some even iconic, actresses turn up in bit parts including Cloris Leachman, Bette Midler, Candice Bergen, Carrie Fisher and Debi Mazar.

The Bad: What starts off as a daring artistic choice ends up gimmicky and frustrating. That choice is deciding to not have any males in the movie. In a movie centered around a crumbling marriage, its hard to come off as anything other than man-bashing when it refuses to even show a man. There aren't even any male extras (more on that in a moment). This is illuminated most when you think about Alex (Jada Pinkett Smith). Putting aside the reality that she comes off like a token black, we see she's also the surrogate man. She has what could be a man's name, she's a lesbian so she's obviously into women, a bit of a slacker who parties too much and is generally straight-forward with her views. She is every bit an attempt to give male viewers someone to relate to. And she also helps maintain the ladies only motif by taking our crew to an all-lesbian restaraunt. This scene and the street scenes are filled with beautiful female extras (told you I'd get back to this) and appear solely as an effort to hold guys' attention. The same seems true for the casting of Mendes who's part could've been played by any number of starlets. However, by not having any males at all to project onto we get a strange phenomena. Men in the audience feel attacked and female viewers can only unsatisfyingly beat up a faceless enemy. Well, in the end (spoiler?) there is one male character shown but it feels like a slap in the face. It's like the filmmakers telling us "This is all you get, now be happy with it."

The Ugly: This is a completely different movie if our girls pick somewhere else to get their nails done.

Recommendation: This is pretty much for fans of rom-coms. Once you peel back the complicated layers you'll see its the same old stuff Ryan, Messing and the rest have been doing for years. The difference is that those other movies make men caricatures and have them follow the same developmental arc while this one dispenses with them completely and doesn't even pretend to care to give them a chance to put in their two cents. This is interesting at first, but wears thin about halfway through.

The Opposite View: Bob Bloom, Jounal and Courier (Lafayette, IN)

What the Internet Says: 4.8/10 on (5/22/09), 13% on, 27/100 on

MY SCORE: 5/10

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Yes Man

Yes Man
2008. Rated PG-13, 104 minutes.
Director: Peyton Reed.
Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Darby, John Michael Higgins, Danny Masterson, Terence Stamp, Rocky Carroll, John Cothran Jr.

Plot: Carl (Carrey) is divorced and depressed. A chance encounter with an old friend prompts him to attend a self-help seminar. At the seminar, he agrees to say yes to anything asked of him in order to help him live life to the fullest.

The Good: This is in Carrey's wheelhouse. It's the type of silly comedy which made him a star. He gets to do outrageous things for outrageous reasons. He seems to be having fun. In turn, we have fun as well. Aside from him, Rhys Darby as his boss/uber-nerd/wannabe buddy Norman is hilarious. We also get funny turns, both slightly more than cameos from John Michael Higgins as the old friend and Brent Briscoe as the homeless guy.

The Bad: It comes off as a reimagining of Liar Liar so there really aren't any surprises to be had, narratively. Just substitute not being able to say no for not being able to tell a lie and it unfolds precisely the way we think it will. Only Carrey's wacky excursions and lack of a son differentiate this movie from that one.

The Ugly: Two things: first, how the old lady who lives next door "takes care" of our hero and second the shameless and seemingly constant product placement.

Recommendation: Fans of Jim Carrey, this is for you. Much like Will Ferrell, you either like him or you don't with little gray area between the two. It's not Carrey's best movie by any stretch, but its a solid effort worthy of a rental when you're in the mood for a silly comedy.

The Opposite View: Richard Luck, Channel 4 Film

What the Internet Says: 7.1/10 on (6/11/09), 43% on, 46/100 on

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Not Easily Broken

Not Easily Broken
2009. Rated PG-13, 100 minutes.
Director: Bill Duke. Starring Morris Chestnut, Taraji P. Henson, Jennifer Lewis, Kevin Hart, Wood Harris.

Plot: After several years of marital bliss, David (Chestnut) and Clarice (Henson) begin to have problems. Based on the novel by Bishop T.D. Jakes.

The Good: This is one of those movies that has its heart in the right place. It wants to give married couples pointers on working through difficult times. Our hero, David, is an everyman who's simply trying to be good to everyone. We see most of the movie through his eyes as he navigates the rough seas of his life. The whole thing has a very real feel to it. Kevin Hart's periphery character, Tree, handles the comic relief and does a fairly solid job. In the lead roles, Chestnut and Henson perform well, as usual.

The Bad: It opens up several storylines but doesn't resolve them all. More than not resolving them, it actually seems to purposely toss them aside as our main plot nears it's conclusion. By the way, that conclusion feels more like the first step towards a resolution than actually being one. Lastly, it's appeal is going to be limited, first to people who are or have been married and second to people who are fans of T.D. Jakes. People outside of this group may not get it and think it's overblown.

The Ugly: The story we hear about lotion and bumpy backs. Ewww.

Recommendation: Its not quite a date movie, but it is a solid relationship movie with a Christian slant. Couples who've been together for awhile will find a lot to relate to. Although T.D. Jakes shares much of the same audience as Tyler Perry, don't go looking for any Madea-style antics, here. As expected, Jakes and the filmmakers, play it fairly straight and a bit heavy-handed. It's certainly not perfect, but it is intriguing.

The Opposite View: Theresa Everline, The Austin Chronicle

What the Internet Says: 4.4/10 on (6/10/09), 36% on, 43/100 on

MY SCORE: 6.5/10

Carbon Copy

Carbon Copy
1981. Rated PG, 92 minutes.
Director: Michael Schultz. Starring George Segal, Denzel Washington, Susan Saint James, Jack Warden, Dick Martin, Paul Winfield.
Wealthy white exec Walter (Segal) suddenly discovers he has a 17 year old black son named Roger (Washington), much to the chagrin of his wife (Saint James) and father-in-law/boss (Warden). He is immediately fired and kicked out of his home. Wacky riffs involving racial stereotypes ensue. It's one of a long line of 1980s comedies that take a poor black kid, insert him into a situation where he's surrounded by rich white people and/or have a rich white person surrounded by poor blacks (this movie does both), tries to cull comedy from their differences and teach us valuable life lessons about the virtues of racial harmony and tolerance. At all of those things it does okay, not great. It's a decent watch but shouldn't be on anyone's list of must-see movies from the 80s. That said, it is notable for being Denzel Washington's first feature film. MY SCORE: 6/10